Inside A Vintage 1960′s Wiggle Dress

At the same shop as the black eyelet shirtdress, I bought a 1960s wiggle dress! It was marked as 1950s but it looks to be more 1960s, based on sewing patterns from that era.

1960s red lace wiggle dress

It’s not my usual silhouette, but it was a perfect fit so I couldn’t pass it by! I usually avoid tight-fitting skirts because I feel self-conscious about my thighs. I don’t mind having a curvy rear end, but I don’t like skirts tight across my legs. I felt like they would emphasize my large and rather long rear and call attention to the fact that I’m widest across the thighs. For these reasons, I thought that wiggle dresses were a ‘no’ for me no matter how sexy they are!

And then I met this red lace beauty. This was the last dress I tried on at the store and the one that made me go ‘wow!’ (I also thought, I know what I’m wearing to next year’s holiday parties!)

red lace vintage 1960s dress

Sorry that I don’t have photos of it on me! I wanted to share the dress, but I felt like it deserved proper shoes and a proper photo shoot to show it off on a day with nice weather. I will get some photos of it on me at some point!

Here are some of the thoughtful design features:

Piping at the waistline. It’s such a little touch that’s easy to add to any dress pattern, but it looks great! I personally love the little fabric bows at the waist, placed at the end of each dart.

vintage red lace dress

Gathered skirt instead of darted. This looks very flattering even though I didn’t think it would be! I thought it would look a bit like a sack, and draw attention to the width of my hips. Instead, the soft gathers help camouflage the gap between prominent thighs, and the whole look is quite elegant. Of course, after I bought this dress, I noticed that many vintage sewing patterns from that era have gathered wiggle skirts as well.

wiggle dresses on vintage sewing patterns(All three of these patterns with the narrow skirts feature gathers at the waistline. The left  one is from 1964 and the other two are undated but similar in envelope design and price.)

Hooks across the zipper for extra security. Once the hook at the waistline is done up, the zipper can’t go down lower than that. Modern patterns often ask you to sew a hook and eye at the top of the zipper, but rarely at the waistline too!

hook at zipper for extra security

Look at the bodice – see how wide the darts are? That’s because dresses of this silhouette normally have both front darts and bust darts, but all of the fullness has been pivoted into the one centre dart. I think I might try to re-create this using McCalls 7743 as a starting point.

very wide darts

You absolutely have to wiggle when you walk, because there’s no slit in the skirt!

no slit = definitely a wiggle dress!

The lining is treated as an underlining in the skirt. Again this pattern, McCalls 7743, calls for the same lining treatment! Interesting. I thought that it was unusual to see in the sewing directions, but it turns out that store-bought dresses from that era were constructed that way as well.

lining treated as underlining at the hem

Union made. I looked up the marking on the label “ILGWU” and found this link, again on the Vintage Fashion Guild site. My label does have the ‘AFL-CIO’ on it, so that means it was made after 1955. And if you compare my label to the examples on the site, mine matches the 1963-1974 design. (So I’m right, it is closer to 1964 than the mid-fifties!) It’s so cool that people are taking the time to catalogue this information online. I learned way more about this garment that I would have on my own!

ilgwu label

(Note that the edges are also finished with pinking and straight stitching, nothing fancy. The pinking has frayed but the row of straight stitching has kept it from unraveling into the seamline.)

I’m surprised that this dress fit me, but when I measured it, it’s got a dramatic hourglass shape. 36″ bust, 27″ waist, and a generous 42″ across the hip. I’m about 32/33-26-38/39, so it’s got enough room to fit over my hips without being too big in the bustline, but wow! A modern dress might have a 36″ bust and 42″ hips but the waistline would be nowhere near as narrow. I can’t believe that the finished dress measures 15″ wider in the hips than the waistline. I was born in the wrong era for clothing, that’s for sure!

However, when I see wiggle dresses for sale on Etsy, they usually measure close to the same in the bust and hips. Perhaps this dress was designed to drape loosely over the lower half? (Probably.) I love it the way it is, and I’m going to try sewing dresses in similar silhouettes now that I know I can wear them!

DSC_0803-001

Also, the hem measures the same as the hips, it doesn’t taper in at the hem like I would imagine wiggle dresses do. Interesting to know for reference!

The weirdest thing happened while I was ironing the fold marks out of this dress – when the steam dripped on the skirt, the red fabric turned crimson and shrank. The wet parts were smaller, causing the skirt to pucker around the drips. (I thought I’d ruined it!) Luckily as the steamed spots dried, the colour lightened back up, and the puckers relaxed. Not a good dress to spill water on!

What do you think: is it interesting to see how real sewn garments from the past were made? Do you look inside vintage garments to see how they were made?

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55 Responses to Inside A Vintage 1960′s Wiggle Dress

  1. Rachel May 29, 2013 at 6:12 am #

    So that’s why they call it a wiggle dress! What a great find!

  2. Gret May 29, 2013 at 6:18 am #

    Cool post. I actually had a similar ironing experience yesterday with simple cotton red broadcloth (maybe not the shrinking part, but definitely the scarlet part). I wonder if it’s something with the red dye.

  3. MaciNic May 29, 2013 at 6:18 am #

    Thank you for posting this find – and the eyelet shirtdress – I especially love seeing the inside and musing about the construction details – what a lovely treat they are!

  4. didyoumakethat May 29, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    That is sooooooo interesting and I love the construction details. When I made a 1960s dress last year there was gentle gathering at the waist and huge, deep darts in the front bodice. What a clever idea about the hook and eye at the waist and those little bows – just gorgeous. And, yes, intriguing that it doesn’t taper in at the hem. Can’t wait to see you wearing this. I don’t think I’ve ever had a waist as tiny as yours!

  5. Andrea Firth May 29, 2013 at 6:32 am #

    I hadn’t heard the term “wiggle dress” before!

    I must confess, I look inside ALL garments when I’m shopping. I have a friend who thinks it hilarious that when we go looking at clothes together, I spend more time looking inside the clothes than outside!

    • MrsSmith May 29, 2013 at 7:59 am #

      YES! My daughter gets embarrassed but I now stop to snoop out construction details or fabric choices on things that I like. I *love* being able to sew! :)

  6. Sam May 29, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    Wow that dress is simply stunning. I want one for myself! I can see that I’ll be making something along these lines in the not too distant future.

  7. Sally May 29, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    Love this dress (and the eyelet one too!) – thanks for sharing :) I would love to see a re-created version for a modern day pear shape!

  8. Jenny May 29, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    Very interesting. I love looking inside of dresses now to figure out the construction methods. I haven’t come across any vintage ones but looking at modern ones is just as fun. It really helps me in my own sewing and then I think about all the money I save by making my own!

  9. NewRibena May 29, 2013 at 6:56 am #

    That’s a lovely find. I also hope that you will use this as inspiration for a future dress pattern. Thanks for the details.

  10. Amy May 29, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Wow, that is an amazing dress. I bought a vintage green wiggle dress that is now my favourite item of clothing. They really do fit beautifully!!!

  11. Truly Myrtle May 29, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Fantastic. I am loving hearing about your vintage finds.
    Interestingly there are a bunch of Simplicity patterns in the pile of vintage patterns my mum just gave to me – the models are the same as your ladies! Oh I love them. Can’t wait to have a go.

  12. annette tirette May 29, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    Very interesting! I’ve noticed how red fabrics sometimes go a bit darker for a while when you press them, and it always scares me (what if it doesn’t go awaaaay?) but it fades back to the original colour as it cools… Not sure why.

  13. Roisin May 29, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Wow! I love this dress and the hook and eye at the waistband is a revelation – this is something I will definitely incorporate into future makes!

  14. Amanda May 29, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    Amazing! Both this and the 1950s shirtdress! Thanks for sharing, as I love these detailed shots and analysis of vintage dresses/construction. Truly inspiring. And now you’ve got me thinking that the 3 yards of silk dupioni I have no idea what to do with (so attention grabbing!) would be perfect with Gertie’s wiggle dress pattern for the holidays.

  15. nothylane May 29, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    I love this dress….it just goes to showing us that we have to try clothes on before panning them. I hope you design a wiggle dress pattern at some point?

    • Tasia May 29, 2013 at 10:28 am #

      I’d love to design a dress with this silhouette! Might be a harder sell than some of the more practical pieces but it would be fun to make and design.

      • Caroline May 29, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

        I would buy it!
        I think it would make a nice addition to your other patterns. For me the different shape and occasion would be big selling points! And practicality is not much of an issue for me (when something looks good and the shape is flattering on my pear shaped body).

  16. MrsSmith May 29, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    That’s a lovely dress. LOVELY! I’d wear it and wiggle around in it too! :)

  17. Diane @ Vintage Zest May 29, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    The hardest thing to do with a wiggle dress is going to be getting in and out of a car! Unfortunately, bicycles will be out of the question, but that wouldn’t be the mode of transportation to a holiday party anyways. I can’t wait to see it with a proper photo shoot. :) Good luck!

    • Tasia May 29, 2013 at 10:27 am #

      Yup, no cycling in this dress! Good point about getting in and out of the car, I’ll have to be conscious of that when I wear the dress, no sudden moves!

  18. Kelly May 29, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    How interesting! This dress has beautiful details, and is so perfect for a party. The hook and eye at the waist may also be good for pulling the seam allowances together at the thicker waist seam.

    • Tasia May 29, 2013 at 10:26 am #

      That makes sense! It’s pretty thick with the piping at the waist.

  19. Stephanie May 29, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    It’s gorgeous! What a great find.

  20. unlabelled clothes May 29, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    This dress is beautiful. I’m always looking inside (contemporary) clothes whilst in shops to see how they have finished them. I normally find designer shops a bit intimidating but I had a look inside Orla Kiely dresses – all the finishing on the zips and french seams were so lovely.

  21. Patty May 29, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    I’m intrigued by all the little details that made sewing such an exquisite art! Waistline hook and eye – yes, of course!

  22. Louisa May 29, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Thanks for sharing the details of this lovely dress! Did you mention the fibre content? That and the particular dye used might explain the odd reaction to moisture.

    Don’t forget that the original owner would likely be wearing a pointy bra and a firm girdle under that dress. It’s not that we necessarily have larger waists these days but much less in the way of underpinnings! Also if the skirt was pegged then there would have to be a walking slit or forget wiggle – you wouldn’t be able to do more than shuffle!

    • Tasia May 29, 2013 at 10:25 am #

      There is no fibre content label – it feels synthetic, maybe nylon? Polyester? Hard to tell. Lace is usually nylon, this type of lace anyways.

      Oh yes, this would be a good dress for a pointy bra! And I was surprised to see no slit, there isn’t one in this dress at all! Not even a hidden one or a kick pleat. Small steps and no running in this dress!

  23. Rachael-Lynn May 29, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    Thank you for sharing the details of this dress! It is delightful!! I recently made a 60s wiggle dress for Julia bobbins mad men dress challenge. It was a pattern I bought for $1 at a flea market. Seeing as how I am also a pear and fuller through the thighs than hips I thought I’d just make it for fun but never wear it. But they made pattern different. The size 12 32 bust fit with almost no modifications!! And it looks HOT on!! I hope you enjoy your dress as much as I enjoy mine!!

  24. Karen Helm May 29, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    So glad you found and bought this dress! Thanks so much for sharing the construction details. It is really so lovely – and I bet you look fabulous in it!

  25. Stephanie May 29, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    What a beautiful dress! I have the same concerns about you with clothing drawing attention to my thighs. I think though that the main thing is to emphasise the waist. Since the waist is narrow and has the little bow details I’m sure it looks great on you. Such a great find!

  26. Petitebluebirdgirl May 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    hi

    Love the the red dress! The title should be: – Inside a 1960′s classic style wiggle dress

    The dress isn’t 1950 – 1960′s. I had a dress very similar to this in 1987; my mother bought it for my birthday from Jaeger.

    Fashion styles after 1950, are ‘classics’ which can be reproduced again and again, then restyled a little; but these clothes are not vintage like Cars prior to that period. I feel that the word VINTAGE is being greatly overused. I like to think that the lovely Grace Kelly’s clothes were very classic, timeless, understated and like her graceful ….. Vintage sounds extremely OLD and doesn’t lend itself to fashion!

    Most fashion styles after 1950 will re-imerge again and again – take the 1960′s mini skirt and dress: its had an outing every few years since that decade! The floral/checkered dress pattern in the middle and on the right have resurged many times in the last 50+ years or so; in the form of summer dresses, short dresses, long dresses, mini dresses etc. The french/Italian style wiggle *pin-slim fitted dresses in the patterns (red,pink, white/blue sash) are extreme classics because, although they can be reproduced again; they will never look the same as when they did prior to the 1960′s era. Today’s modern woman carries so much more body fat and so the fit will never look so elegant.

    *Called wiggle Pin-slim because the fit was so close and tight fitting to your body/legs (legs were known as pins) that you would have found it hard to walk; so you would have wiggled along when walking.

    Petitebluebirdgirl, I have been sewing for 38 years. I used to sew for Paul Smith, Ben Sherman and made lingerie for M&S.

  27. Elizabeth May 29, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    The dress is so classy. I llove wearing dresses and skirts. My mom is a seamstress and I grew up appreciating homemade clothing. My mom would show me a well made garment and ones that were not when we shopped at the mall.

  28. Kerry May 29, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Fascinating, thankyou!

  29. Deb May 29, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    It’s lovely and thanks for the details. Fascinating. Now do we get to see it on you Tasia. You’ve model the others. You have an eye for items and I do think you’ve got a winner here. Congrats and thanks for the fun.

  30. Nicole May 29, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Tasia, think its safe to say we all love a sneaky peek at the inner workings of a vintage dress!
    I feel like so much more thought and care was put into construction and design back then as opposed today when so much of a finished rtw garment is dependant on profit margins.
    I love the waist gathers instead of darts and the piping at the waist. It’s good inspiration, these little details make all the difference :-)

  31. Carley May 29, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Hi Tasia,

    Love the dress and I especially love the way you call it a wiggle dress!

    Another point is that women of this era wore girdles which went down over the tops of their thighs! This garment didn’t permit you to take the long strides that girdle-less women of today take, so they did, indeed, wiggle.

    A friend of mine is a costume designer for the movies and he told me that when they do a show from that era the actresses need to do all their rehearsals wearing a girdle so they learn to walk like a woman would have back in the day.

    Thanks for the peek inside the “vintage/classic” garments.

  32. Sue May 29, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Is that a front pleat? Does it give you additional walking room? Just an idea if you make one of your own.

  33. marthaeliza May 29, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    “…So always look for
    the Union Label,
    it says we’re able
    to make it in the USA.”

    Brings a tear to my eye…I grew up singing this song.

    Here’s a youtube link to one of the ILGWU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Lg4gGk53iY

  34. Ann-Marie May 29, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this one as well. Love looking at the inner detail of vintage beauties!

  35. Lori May 29, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    What a classy dress! I really enjoy your posts about vintage dresses. Very fun to see the construction and how it differs from today.

  36. Lorinda May 29, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    This is very pretty. It would be a candidate for a waist stay, the little hook at the waist is a good plan and probably much easier to do. If you make a copy would you include a kick pleat at the back?

  37. Esz May 29, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Such a pretty dress! From my experience, most wiggle dresses actually have a straight skirt – I haven’t come across much I’ve bought and made (and I sew exclusively from pre-60′s patterns) that has a skirt that actually goes IN from the hip. They are almost always straight – which is a peg skirt – and wiggle goes in.
    I think pear shaped girls can get away with a wiggle or peg skirt as long as the top half is balanced out with a full top or something with strong shoulders. A billowy blouse or a shirt with long sleeves. As long as the emphasis is still on the waist and the skirt sits high, then the full top balances out the fuller hips.
    If you ever DO make a wiggle skirt pattern, maybe it could come with such a combo? A slim skirt with a full blouse. It would add a unique dimension to your pattern line. So many possibilities! :-)

  38. Elena Knits May 30, 2013 at 4:30 am #

    Amazing entry. With this kind of posts we also learn with you. You’re a knowledge source!

  39. Didi Lee May 30, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    I love vintage dresses from the 50′s and 60′s and have really enjoyed your posts on the anatomy of these dresses. The attention to detail, and the simplicity of that detail, is what makes them so classic and beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  40. Elle May 30, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    Fun to see this beautiful dress. I was sewing dresses like this one in the 60′s, so this reminds me of many of those dresses. The details you’re noticing were much very standard construction–and resulted in clothing that held up well and felt good to wear. Hope you enjoy this one!

  41. Alison Marie May 30, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    My grandmother, a card-carrying member of the ILGWU, taught me to always look inside a dress to see how it’s made before buying it….Thanks for sharing such great details of what you found.

  42. Adeline May 31, 2013 at 2:56 am #

    It’s interesting to see the details inside the garment especially the vintage one. So much to learn and they are usually so neat. Unlike the chaos in cheaply manufactured dresses in this era. Every dress should be both beautiful inside and outside though it can be difficult but I guess that’s where the patience and love for process kicks in. I often rush through mine and cause a messy inside.
    Do wear it and show us :)
    Cheers, Ade (www.adesays.wordpress.com)

  43. Barbara Munic May 31, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    I just finished a copy of a beloved sundress from the seventies, which had a faced hem and a full lining for a simple cotton tie back halter dress. The hem facing gave such a nice weight and drape to the skirt and even the halter portion was lined. The other thing I really liked was that the front halter was not nearly as low cut as what is often seen these and the haler sides were cut for modesty. Even in the day, this was a mass produced item, which was not made of an especially high grade of cotton and yet the overall construction was much nicer than what is available now. Long live vintage!
    Barbara

  44. Elisabeth May 31, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    I’m wondering, if I wanted to adapt a skirt pattern to have gathers instead of darts, would I just sew a gathering stitch across the dart and then create a gather that is the same width of the sewn dart?

    • Tasia May 31, 2013 at 11:46 am #

      Yes, that’s exactly what to do! You may want to extend the gathering lines past the dart lines on either side, so the gathers are distributed a little more evenly than just over the dart. So the gathers will be a little wider than the sewn dart, but it will take in the same amount of fullness. Does this make sense? (Oh and if there are two darts, make sure the gathered sections are the same on both sides.)

      • Elisabeth May 31, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

        Yes, that makes sense! :) Thanks, Tasia!

  45. suzy May 31, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    Such a pretty dress! And perfect for holiday parties.
    I have noticed that red fabric often changes colour when ironed, and then fades back again… it must be slightly heat sensitive. But I haven’t had the experience of fabric shrinking before from steam, I’m glad it went back to normal again when it dried.

  46. Stephanie June 4, 2013 at 2:54 am #

    This was fascinating! I have always loved examining vintage garments, but what a treat to be able to read your observations. I particularly like the hook and eye detail at the waistline. (Oh and your entry on the shirt dress was terrific.) Keep these posts coming!

    Tasia, I also wanted to drop by to tell you that I absolutely love your blog. I am new to your designs but recently made your Cambie dress and the pattern was a dream. (PS I am a relative newbie to sewing, although I sewed quite a bit when I was in my early 20s (learning mostly through trial and error and making an awful lot of dreadful garments!) In my early 40s, I am excited by the current revival of home sewing, as I have always been very particular about clothes and rarely find things in shops that match my tastes, ethical standards, etc.). Sewing is also such a wonderful, relaxing activity!

    All the best wishes for continued success and thank you for the great material that you share on the blog.

  47. Konna Raub December 28, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    I just found your blog and I love this dress! I am wondering if you actually wore it for anything yet as it is the holidays or if it’s going to be your New Year’s Party Dress. I am really hoping you post pics of you in it, as I am learning what wiggle dresses are and this one is just fun!

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